Safe Hunting Year

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Safety officials credit Iowa's long-running hunter education program and the recently arrived blazed orange requirement for upland game hunters as the primary reasons. "This has been a long time goal of the department," underscores Rod Slings, DNR recreation safety supervisor. "While one injury is too many; having a year with no fatalities is tremendous." A shooting death in December, next to a public hunting area in central Iowa was initially treated as a hunting incident. However, investigation concluded it was a suicide.

Slings sees the safe hunting year as a culmination of Iowa's volunteer-driven hunter education program. "We have 1,800 dedicated volunteers who teach 12,000 students or more each year. (That) is probably the number one reason for the decline," says Slings. "Compare (2004) to 1966, before hunter education became mandatory. We had 144 personal injuries and 19 fatalities."

A review of the 2004 incidents underscores Slings observation that even one injury is too many. Incidents resulted in a lifelong disability to 'just' property damage. In Johnson County, a stray deer slug went through the siding of a house south of Solon, across a room and into the family's entertainment center. Investigators tracked the slug's path back into a nearby field. The December 18 incident is still under investigation.

Two weeks earlier, in Jackson County, Jared Determan was left with an ominous scar, but no doubt feeling lucky to be alive. The 19-year-old had just shot and missed a deer while hunting with his group near Canton. Behind and above him, 15-year-old Lucas Petty stepped forward to shoot; slid on the hillside of a creek bed, causing his firearm to discharge. The slug tore across Determan's scalp, leaving a six-inch scar. Remarkably, Determan was released after treatment.

While eight of the reported incidents involved deer hunting, other seasons were not immune. On the day after Christmas, in Woodbury County, 41-year-old Tony Bohlke of LeMars suffered severe eye injuries when struck by over 40 pellets as another hunter in his party of six swung on a flying pheasant and fired in his direction. Pheasant hunting was tied to five incidents. Another two came during turkey hunting; two more were connected to rabbit hunters. One was unknown. The final count of hunting incidents is 19, including two of property damage. They were scattered over 14 Iowa counties.

Swinging on game; flushing gamebirds, for example, or running deer is the leading cause of accidents. That is one reason that safety officials applaud the just enacted 'blaze orange' law for upland game hunters. For years, firearm deer hunters have been required wear blaze orange over their upper bodies. In 2004, the Iowa Legislature approved and Governor Tom Vilsack signed into effect a law requiring upland game (pheasants, quail, rabbits, etc.) to wear a hat, gloves, vest or jacket which is at least half blaze orange.

More than just the increased visibility, though, Slings points to the record low count as an indication that hunters overall are paying attention. "We now see hunting incidents become news because they are so few," Slings says. "We know that hunters are making the proper choices out there, as to when and when not to pull the trigger."

As hunters hear of a hunting incident now, he hopes they will be realize the progress made. "Hunting is part of our heritage and an important tradition," Sling stresses. "(It) is a safe activity and is getting safer."